Vancouver’s 2014 municipal candidates match wits in lighthearted debate

Candidates appealed to the crowd using comedy, rapping skills, and pizza bribes.

Candidates for political office must now be able to freestyle rap, have solid comedic timing, and be able to theatrically toss their hair around to impress a crowd — at least, these are some of the skills that were showcased on Sunday night at SFU’s Last Candidate Standing, in anticipation of the November 15 voting day.

Twenty-seven candidates in Vancouver’s upcoming municipal election used any means necessary to outwit each other and avoid elimination during the event, which was held at the SFU Woodward’s campus.

In a round-robin elimination style debate, which was judged partially by a Panel of Inquisitors and partially by audience approval, groups of three candidates were given 60 seconds to respond to a question posed by either the panel or a member of the crowd. The majestic crash of a giant gong on stage marked the time limit.

Independent mayoral candidate Cherryse Kaiser decided to forgo a    t-shirt entirely

“We want[ed] to change up what is often a tired debate format, and have a bit of fun with it,” said Paola Qualizza, chair of the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN), who helped organize the event.

All candidates running for positions as mayor, city councillor, parks board commissioner, or school board trustee were invited to participate. Questions covered topics such as voter turnout, transportation issues, homelessness, cost of real estate, bike paths, and the construction of high-rise buildings in single-family occupancy neighbourhoods.

After a lively debate about whether information about private and corporate campaign donations should be made available to the public, a pizza delivery arrived for Cedar Party’s Nicholas Chernen. Free slices of pizza were handed out to audience members while Chernon got on stage for his next round of debate.

“I want to know who paid for that pizza,” said RJ Aquino, a city council candidate from OneCity, looking severely at Chernen. “I did not get a slice.”

Crowd-swaying tactics did not end there; mayoral candidate Maynard Aubichon won points for the Stop Party by spitting a freestyle rap about his plans for the city, while city council candidate Sid Chow Tan waved a bright yellow Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE) Party sign that matched his t-shirt. Independent mayoral candidate Cherryse Kaiser decided to forgo a t-shirt entirely, and instead exercised her right to bare her chest in public.

After four gruelling rounds punctuated by laughter, bantering, and the ever-present ringing of the gong, only two candidates remained in the running: Andrea Reimer from Vision Vancouver faced Pete Fry from the Green Party in a final round of debate, beating him by a mere 0.1 margin on the decibel meter that measured the cheering of the crowd.

“I want to know who paid for that pizza   [. . .] I did not get a slice.”

RJ Aquino, OneCity city council candidate

Reimer confided to The Peak that, while the event was fun to participate in, “it was a little terrifying to be up there,” saying, “there’s a lot of pressure to perform, especially since some people can get so theatrical.”

The friendly format of the debate was met with approval by participants, who encouraged students to attend political events.

“It’s a good way to learn about the political process, and figure out how you can make changes in your community,” first-time independent mayoral candidate Ludvik Skalicky said.

Incumbent Green Party city council candidate Adrienne Carr echoed the sentiment, saying that the event was “a good way to engage young people — it’s a little more fun.”